China’s “Naked Weddings”

"Naked Wedding", the popular Chinese TV drama series that debuted in May 2011, explores what happens in China today when marrying for love in a "naked wedding" -- with no house, substantial savings, or elaborate ceremonies.

I always forget how young America is, both as a nation and as a culture. With some 230 years of history, the US is barely in its adolescence compared with the millennia-old histories of Europe and Asia.  But the recent  Chinese television drama series, “裸婚时代” (Naked Wedding Era), reminded me of how wide that gap can be, and what happens in a society when age-old traditions and rituals clash with modern ideals and economics.

“Naked Wedding Era” follows the lives of a young couple, Liu Yi Yang and Tong Jia Qin, as they choose to forego the formalities and expenses that often come with a traditional Chinese wedding — namely an apartment/house from the groom’s side of the family (the bride’s side of the family traditionally furnishes the apartment/house).  The show’s name (which I promise flows much easier in Chinese) derives from the fact that today, at a time when property values in China are rising at exponential rates, many young couples are trading in real estate, diamond rings, cars and elaborate wedding festivities for rented apartments and smaller, more simple ceremonies with friends and family, much to the chagrin of their parents.  Even a generation ago, completing a marriage by simply registering at city hall for nine yuan (approximately $1.5) would have been unthinkable.

In the show, the young couple undergoes a number of challenges as they struggle to gain a firm financial grounding in an economy whose rising standards of living are even more dizzying for its citizens than they are for the observers outside witnessing its constant 8+% annual growth.  Conflicting cross-generational and class viewpoints add to the drama as well-intentioned in-laws offer/force advice and customs from a time that seems ages removed from the post-80s generation. For love or money, tradition and family versus individualism, coming of age, and rites of passage are all age-old themes this 22-hour TV series explore, portraying, at times, a painfully-stark view of the modern Chinese society that attempts to answer the question: “does love truly triumph over all?” And as always, the answer is never as simple.

More than representing a new trend in modern Chinese society, “naked weddings” also speak to the values and ideologies of the post-80s generation (八令后), a generation of young adults who grew up in the midst of an open China’s modern economic boom and influenced by world views, especially those of the young and culture-defining personality of 美国 (”Beautiful Country”). While they don’t necessarily harbor the same “American dream” of their parents’ generation, they are very much the living embodiment of individuality, and defining identities that are markedly their own and a reflection of their times.

What surprised me the most in this series was the strong streak of entrepreneurship and a willingness to 放弃铁饭碗 (giving up the iron bowl) that ran through this generation. For all the criticism that has been thrust upon these “little emperors” (children raised under China’s one-child policy with four grandparents and two doting parents), they exhibited a determination, self-confidence, and audacity to create their own destinies in both work and love that will undoubtedly change what defines “tradition” in more than just marriage.

For those interested in watching the show, the link to the entire series on Youku can be found here.

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